Ask me what I ate for dinner last night and I’m hard-pressed to answer. Life is busy. Distractions are endless. That little digital box in my pocket keeps my mind from committing to memory just about everything. It’s a helpful little convenience and a curse. Maybe I’m getting old. But I’m guessing a few others might feel the same. It’s a symptom of the times.
But then there are old memories. Why do those stick? For me, they are few. But the ones that have managed to hang around for this party called my life are powerful. And one of the strongest happened almost a half a century ago.
Back on 46th street my folks did what many did in the 60’s. They sought the American dream. My dad worked at the local Harvester building tractors. My mom tended to me and my sister and the house. They both made a home for us. A pair of young twenty-somethings, and they did pretty well at it for a time. From my 50+ year old self that seems like babies raising babies. But that was the way it was back then. It was golden.
They built a brand new split-level at the base of a hill on a corner lot in a new subdivision. Everything was clean and shiny. Concrete streets were crisp and un-weathered. What few trees and shrubs were there were small. Even the street signs were bright and straight. Kids in the neighborhood were all my age.
Our backyard butted up against the Dougherty house. Shelly and her older sister, Betsy lived there. I couldn’t tell you their parents’ names. They weren’t the ones I came calling to come out and play about every day. Since we were at the bottom of the hill they could see right into our house. My mom liked her privacy so it didn’t take long before my dad put up a big privacy fence. It made the lower level cozy, but didn’t do too much for shielding us from curious neighbors spying into the second story.
On that second level we had a tiny deck right outside the kitchen back door. It was like a bird’s perch for me. I would sit on the steps and look out over the neighborhood back yards all rising up the hill. For me, that was thee place.
Not too long after the fence went up so did a limestone raised bed garden. It backed right up to that fence. I remember it having a couple of levels. The slope was steep. Maybe the engineer in my dad figured the fence needed a little buttressing. Whatever the reason it was cool. From my short vantage point that corner of the back yard was a wonder-world to me. Between the tall-tower legs of the deck and the massive height of the fence a shady play land flourished. You had to look straight up to see sky. The fence was stained brown and I pretended it was a forest of tree trunks. The limestone wall was like shale on a mountain slope. Cool things happened there, in my imagination.
But the strongest memory that came from that place was the garden. Within the terraced limestone my mom planted. She planted tomatoes and peppers and carrots. I remember marigolds and petunias lined the edge. And monarchs, I remember monarchs and all sorts of butterflies that visited the backyard. For the life of me, I don’t know how she got anything to grow in that mountainous, shady crevasse along the backyard fence, but she did. And I even got to plant. I had one plant, a tomato. It was mine to tend. And it turned into a monster.
Throughout the summer I played with Shelly. We had imaginary adventures in the narrow nook between the garden and the house. We’d run out, past the tall deck legs, across a little cement patio, past the garage and into a side yard that opened up into glorious sky. The light was so much stronger there. How my tomato ever survived the deep forest of the back yard is a mystery.
But it did. And on a late August afternoon my memory happened.
The thing that is strongest is the sensation. Not the sight, not the smell, not the feel, not any of it individually, but all of it collectively, including me.
In that moment I was it and it was I.
And the mingling of it
It was a singular moment. One of those moments that instantly becomes part of you. And it never leaves. It’s an exchange of experience between inner and outer that melds completely. It is folded into ones being, and ever after, influences and guides a person into the future. It’s the connecting between the external world of experience and the inner soul of life. In an instant it melded so completely that I can recall it today as if it happened 5 minutes ago.
That nature mind meld happened while I was perched on top the two steps of the tall deck. I liked sitting there better than chairs because the risers were perfect for my small self. I could tuck my knees up near my belly. There I could look out onto back yards or look down what seemed like a mile to the little concrete patio below. But in this particular moment I was doing neither. There was no neighborhood. There was no Shelly, no mountain, no shady crevasse, no butterflies. There was only “us”. And the “us” was I. And the “I” was all. And the “all” was all energy mingling, traveling up a pathway, making a connection, showering with zesty, tingling energy. Zap, pizz, sweet, juice almighty. I’m overwhelmed.